Critical 20: No. 10 Branden Jackson

Like any football team, Texas Tech has several players whose performance will be particularly critical to the squad's success. These players, whether by virtue of experience, leadership, importance of the position played, depth concerns, or sheer talent, are especially crucial. They may or not be the best players on the club, but they would be very conspicuous were they absent for any reason.

Back in 2011, Texas Tech signed two high-profile defensive linemen originally from the state of Pennsylvania. They were Delvon Simmons and Branden Jackson. And while Jackson was certainly well regarded, Simmons was considered a monster pickup who had the ability to single-handedly change the nature of the Red Raider defense.

As it happened, Simmons did very little in his short time as a Red Raider before transferring to Southern Cal. Jackson, on the other hand, showed staying power, contributed significantly, and is now looked upon as one of the defense’s undisputed leaders.

He is also a senior. My, how the time flies.

Jackson quietly had a solid season in 2014, playing on a very bad defense. As a tackle and end in a 3-4 look, he recorded 44 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, five sacks, two quarterback hurries, two fumble recoveries and one forced fumble. The sack number was acceptable, while the TFL tally was good. Playing in a 4-3 set this season, and with Big 12 sack leader Pete Robertson lining up on the other side of the line, Jackson should be able to build on his 2014 effort.

But more than pass rushing, Jackson will be expected stand tall—while keeping low pad level, of course—against the run. Stopping the run, more than anything was the defense’s downfall last season, and Jackson, who carries 270 pounds with relative ease, will be expected to tie up the opposition’s right tackle and tight end, freeing up Tech’s questionable (at this point) linebackers to clean up ball-carriers.

So, Jackson’s role is an important one. And heightening his importance to the team is the shaky depth behind him. Currently running No. 2 behind Jackson is sophomore Gary Moore, who, at 6-foot-5 and 225 is built more like a shooting guard than a defensive end. Moore is certainly athletic enough to do some good things, but nagging injuries and his lack of bulk are huge concerns. One cannot imagine him being more than a spot player at this point, which means Jackson’s health and durability are crucial. Behind Moore is walk-on Talor Nunez, who at least has a physique similar to Jackson’s going for him.

David Gibbs and staff would love to see a huge senior season from Jackson, but at this point they’ll gladly settle for steady play, strong leadership, and starts in every single game.
CRITICAL 20 COUNTDOWN



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